SANTA YNEZ VALLEY, Calif. - Cachuma Lake has been a distressing site for the past five years because it's as low as we've seen it since Bradbury Dam was built in the 1950‘s
Along with brown lawns it's become the most visible sign of the drought in recent years.
Fisherman Steve Fowler from Ventura said, "when I show up every year in the Spring time, I am shocked, for the last three years, because I expected it to come up from the rains and it hasn't. If anything it's been dropping slowly."
The lake level is down more than 85 percent from the spill level.
Kenny Weber was trying to catch a trout in one of the new, and farther away, fishing spots. He said, " every year it gets lower . I had a boat out here, and I took my boat out of it. All my spots are - up there! ( he pointed to a far away dirt spot)
Fishing has been good lately with a delivery of 9000 pounds of trout prior to the recent fishing derby. Julie McDonald with the Nature Center said, "people are catching fish left and right."
Apparently with a smaller lake, the odds are higher of a good catch. "When you see the whole family of folks that fish for a living come here you know the fishing is good," said McDonald.
The Cachuma marina is no longer close to the parking area. It is not only a long walk away, but a special rock trail had to be carved out to help visitors get to the boat rentals, or the larger lake tour boat.
Rosey Bishop is a naturalist who takes school kids and visitors out on lake tours daily. She finds the new lake level now as fascinating as a full lake. "I love being here on a day to day basis. I don't get bored with it so I think visitors can find a lot of joy here whether it is out on the lake, in the campground recreating or in the nature center. There's plenty to do here," she said.
Bishop has seen a lot as the lake drains down. "There's old structures that have been exposed like the cattle creamery on the E point. And interesting discoveries along the shoreline, like old bottles from the 1950's. There's new pieces of rock coming out so the geology is really fascinating. You get to see the original riverbed formations.
In the campground there is a changing environment that is still full of birds, deer and coyotes. Eric Koger from Los Angeles sat with his wife and dog eating lunch by a picnic table and said, "there's nothing quite like being out in nature." He is staying in one of the unique yurts for rent. " and then there's a porch facing the lake, then we have this picnic table out front and a barbeque and a fire pit it's great !"
Mornings are considered a very special time at the lake. Jeff Lindgren with the Santa Barbara County Park Department said "it's cool and the air is clear and it is quiet out here. You see some wild life around that time too." He says camping numbers have gone down but there's still a lot for people to enjoy. "Different people like different things. They might want to be here when it is quiet . Wednesday through Thursday might be ideal for them instead of Friday and Saturday night." said Lindgren.
"If you like to mountain bike this is just a wonderful time to bring your bike up here and cycle around what was under 30 feet of water," said McDonald.
A determined fisherman Ed Wong who had five trout by the back of his truck said "when you first start out fishing, it is catching the limit, catching 5 is the goal. Then after you fish for awhile, you get more experience, then you want the larger fish. Then once you conquer that you want the difficult to catch fish."
He was with James Kaizuka who says he knows if he had a good fish on the line before he sees it. "Oh you can tell by the fight," he said.
The days of camping are over for visitor Robert Bourquet. He came in towing a small camper."We used to camp with a tent but we have gotten a little bit older and we have graduated to a little trailer."
Bishop says the guests vary widely. "It's always a mixed bag of people some familiar faces sometimes brand new visitors that don't know what the word ‘Cachuma' means or what this habitat has to offer."
Besides the traditional tent campsites, and RV hookup locations, Cachuma also offers a limited number of yurts and cabins that face out to the lake and offer a different kind of camping experience.
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